Editor's note: This story is part of Southwest Michigan Second Wave's On the Ground Milwood series. If you have a story about the neighborhood please let us know here.
Through the COVID-19 pandemic, Milwood area neighbors have been making a greater effort to reach out to one another -- particularly those with young children, says Chris Praedel.
“I would say, in a lot of ways, it’s brought the neighborhood together more,” says Praedel, a Milwood resident and member of the Kalamazoo City Commission. “I think people are outside more and I think people are spending time in their backyards where they engage with their neighbors.”
Giving them more ways to engage with one another is the mission behind Milwood’s first-ever website (www.Milwoodmi.org
). It was launched on Friday, Oct. 9.
“The website is a good tool to help the neighbors communicate with other people,” says Janice Glasser, a Milwood resident and the designer of the website. Aside from graphic design work, Glasser is also the owner of Rackedvintage.com, an online seller of vintage clothing.
John Hilliard, president of the Neighborhood Watch Association, says, “This helps to overcome some of the things that we can’t do because we don’t have all the big funding that other neighborhoods get.”
The website, Hilliard says, “is designed to get out, first of all to Milwood residents, a little bit better information and also ensures that there’s a place to go to get information.” It also gives them a place to ask questions and get answers.
Glasser says Hilliard knew he may have 10 people who are regularly involved with the workings of the Neighborhood Watch Association. But all 8,000 of those who live in the community are interested in common issues and events, and he wants to reach them. That is most easily done these days through the Internet, she says.
“I originally started running a Facebook page
to get the word out about the neighborhood meetings and it really got pretty good momentum before COVID-19 hit,” Glasser says, referring to this page.
The new Milwood site has a “Report A Crime” feature, in keeping with the original mission of the 26-year-old Milwood Neighborhood Watch – safeguarding the neighborhood.
“Sometimes you might see a neighborhood hangout (where someone says), ‘Oh, our car got broken into last night.’” Glasser says. “Well, now they can go onto the Milwood website. They can fill out a simple form. It gets sent over to John (Hilliard), and he communicates whatever comes in to the community policing officer from the Kalamazoo Department of Public Safety. … They can report things anonymously and keep the neighborhood safe.”
The site is set to report upcoming events, accolades to local people, volunteer projects, and speakers who will be featured at monthly meetings of the association. Although they have been suspended to prevent the spread of the COVID-19 virus, the meetings are usually held on the second Tuesday of each month at Milwood Community Church and proudly attract 50 to 75 area residents.
The site is already recruiting entries to the neighborhood’s Halloween home display contest and setting the stage for a December holiday season home display contest. Glasser says it will be easier for people to make submissions because everything can be done digitally.
The site soon hopes to compile a directory of the businesses in the neighborhood and help solicit residents’ input for a Milwood Neighborhood Plan, which will outline a strategic vision for the area.
Funding for the new website, which includes the neighborhood motto “A great place to live, work, shop, play, and stay,” was provided by the Irving S. Gilmore Foundation and Omni Community Credit Union.
Better interpersonal communication is something Praedel says he thinks will continue after the pandemic ends. “Our neighbors did a lemonade stand,” he says of one of their summertime activities. “They posted it online in the Milwood group on Facebook and the kids next door raised like $300 for Loaves & Fishes (food pantry). The neighbors all showed up and supported the kids and got lemonade from their stand.”
“I see people post things where they’re growing vegetables and leaving them out for people,” he continues, providing examples of how people are trying to make connections. “And people have created their own food pantries where they leave groceries for people. It’s a cool place to live.”